Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist has dismissed a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to block students in Virginia schools from participating in a “moment of silence,” even as kids and adults alike try to come to grips with the loss of friends and loved ones at the Pentagon.
The nation’s premier military complex was attacked by terrorists who hijacked an airliner on Tuesday and flew the fully fueled plane into the structure. Officials still aren’t sure how many military and civilian personnel were killed, but there were 64 passengers aboard the American Airlines jet that was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon.
“We all know somebody that got killed in the Pentagon or on that airplane,” said Steve Aiken, spokesman for the Traditional Values Coalition, which issued a statement condemning the ACLU action.
“We are just livid at this, if for nothing else the tastelessness of this action,” he told WND. “We think it’s absolutely appalling.”
The ACLU argued that the moment of silence is an unconstitutional infringement on the “establishment” clause of the First Amendment, which, the group claims, calls for a “separation of church and state,” according to CNSNews.com, which reported Rehnquist’s decision yesterday.
Analysts say the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion” clause simply says the federal government cannot officially recognize and support one religion over another; it does not say, according to legal experts, that the government or states can ban local schools from allowing prayer or “moments of silence.”
“After more than a year of operation, the Virginia statute providing for a moment of silence seems to have meant just that,” Rehnquist wrote, according to CNSNews.com.
“Children all over this nation are asking their parents, pastors, and teachers about God, death and violence” in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks, said Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, in a statement. “My own granddaughter has asked me these questions since the terrorist attack. These children need spiritual guidance during this time – not ACLU assaults on religious freedom.”
A year ago, Virginia Gov. James Gilmore signed legislation requiring a mandatory one-minute moment of silence before each school day. During this period, children can pray, meditate or do any other non-disruptive silence activity. No child is forced to pray or meditate.
The Virginia chapter of the ACLU filed the motion Aug. 31 – about two weeks before last Tuesday’s serial terrorist attacks.
“Acting on behalf of seven public-school students and their parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state’s mandatory ‘minute of silence’ law, saying it violates the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom,” said the Virginia chapter’s statement.
“Today’s legal action not only asks the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Virginia’s minute of silence law is unconstitutional, but also asks for the court to issue an immediate injunction to stop the continued implementation of the law before the start of the school year,” the statement said.
“The minute of silence law is not a legal abstraction,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Every single day, public schools in Virginia come to halt in order to encourage students to participate in a spiritual exercise. It is especially unfair for students whose religion does not allow for them to pray in public or whose prayer practices require an environment not available in a school setting.”
Despite the earlier filing, Sheldon still found the action unconscionable.
“Last night, we saw the Senate and House join together in a time of corporate prayer and Bible reading over Tuesday’s terrorist attack upon America,” said Sheldon. “At a time like this, every person in this nation should have the right to pray to God for strength and comfort.”
“The ACLU wants to deny this right to children in Virginia who have been terribly traumatized by the attack on the Pentagon,” he added. “Supporters and the leadership of the ACLU should be ashamed of themselves for their horrible insensitivity toward children during a time of national mourning.”